“Visconti's Ludwig represents the defeat of lucidity at the hands of extravagance. The life of ‘the mad king of Bavaria,' that handsome Nineteenth century hermaphrodite whose taste for legend fired him to patronise Wagner and whose mania for building florid castles nearly bankrupted his exchequer, is decorative rather than dramatic - and therein lies the picture's principal failing. Visconti merely ushers his audience with awe from one solemn tableau to another - the sumptuous Coronation, the Lohengrin charade, the fireside trysts between Ludwig and his favorite youths.
“Of course there are ideas in the film: the clash between duty and idealism; Ludwig's pursuit of happiness in the realms of art and the impossible, while others settle for material security; the disability of the soul to fly free of the body; and so on and so forth. But there is no vigour, no tragic dimension, to this ceremonial. The life of Ludwig is presented in all its priggish bathos, but it is never analysed by Visconti, in the way that he once analysed the lovers' degradation in Senso. The performance of Helmut Berger as the monarch, observed by Visconti in unrelenting (and finally boring) close-up, never permits the film's lofty notions to achieve significance. The dialogue is hollow and excessive, and there is a slackness about the rhythm of the picture that conflicts with Ludwig's impulsive ardour. The minor characters are clumsily and portentously introduced, and only Trevor Howard, as Wagner, brings any credibility to his role. The film is all the more frustrating when, on occasion, Visconti bestows his old operatic magic on brief scenes like the sleigh-ride through the night, and final torch-lit search for the king.”